Random Acts of Culture Not So Random

24 May

CCI Tuesday

By Ben Kubie, Program Director, Community

This year the Arts & Science Council has been heavily involved in the national initiative Random Acts of Culture. Funded through the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, this initiative is taking place in eight Knight Communities throughout the nation – Miami, Detroit, San Jose, Philadelphia, Macon, Akron, St. Paul and Charlotte. We recently concluded a symposium at the Knight Foundation in Miami where we discussed and continued to refine our best practices. As the coordinator of these in Charlotte, I can convey a couple of things I have learned in our pilot year.

First, a Random Act of Culture (RAC) is anything but random for those involved. The coordination takes time, and the planning involved can include factors such as time of day, audience disposition , crowd control, safety, technical support and the recognizable nature of the work being performed. In other words, “random” is an audience perception.

The primary indicator of RAC success so far appears to be working with artists and venues that have strong buy-in from the very start and are inclined toward partnership. As exciting and straightforward as this idea may be, a classically trained artist, while adventurous, is likely not a busker, and a typical venue is not accustomed to spontaneous performances that may detract from their business (I have actually found venues are wary of anything that sounds like a take-over flash mob).

Typically, in a standard theater environment, the quality of the performance is optimal with the entire design of the space built to support the artistic product. In the “RAC world” the measure of success is not always the perfect quality of the performance, but the transformational quality of the experience as a whole.

A RAC, by its definition, is out of context, and may even temporarily inconvenience some, but the payoff is a shared cultural experience for the viewer and the artists alike. In order to avoid this becoming an exercise for the sake of the cultural community alone, those of us organizing these events need to be creating something of real benefit for our audience, whoever they might be. For behind these spontaneous performances is a much larger concept.

The tide in our modern creative culture is changing with great democratization spanning across the arts, fueled in large part by social media. More than ever, people are participating in creative activities, while attendance to traditional cultural activities remains in steady decline. A trend is emerging in which people want and expect their culture to be accessible and participatory. Furthermore, they expect to have a hand in creating it.

Those of us on the front lines of the cultural scene recognize that it is not enough to have great programming in our museums, theaters and rehearsal halls – the arts need to be geared to find people where they are. With our efforts centered on the viewers instead of the performers Random Acts of Culture strives to build community through the infusion of arts into our daily lives.

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